“There Has Not Been a Peace Process; There Has Been an Annexation Process”: Norman Finkelstein Discusses the Israel-Palestine Conflict

November 18, 2011

In News

Though several YouTube clips portray him as a radical, many of Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s ideas and resolutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict are so reasonable that it is no wonder his opponents try to silence and/or discredit him (in fact, an acquaintance of mine complained he wasn’t radical enough!). Speakers can easily be put-down as “extremist” or “anti-Semitic” when their ideas are radically out of the norm. But with Finkelstein these labels go down like a lead balloon.

As part of his speaking tour of the UK, Finkelstein’s lecture in Manchester, England in early November was originally intended to be held at the University of Manchester. However, students from Manchester Action Palestine, who organised the event, had to move the lecture off-campus to the Friends Meeting House in the city centre after pressure from the JSOC(Jewish Society), who wanted to limit attendees of the event to students only. The JSOC alleged that the safety of Jewish students would be endangered if the public were allowed in, even though they had made clear their own intention to attend and hold a protest.

The lecture was not dedicated to mentioning Israel’s war crimes because, as Finkelstein said, it is “common knowledge now.” Even liberal Jews in the United States cannot turn a blind eye to the policies of the state of Israel because information is much more widely available today, as opposed to twenty years ago when even Amnesty International (up until the First Intifada) would not say a critical word about Israel. Rather, the evening was dedicated to how we can solve, or at least attempt to solve, the Israel-Palestine conflict. Finkelstein also answered questions on a variety of other Middle East issues ranging from a possible war with Iran (“Obama has made it clear he wants to be re-elected. He won’t allow it to happen”) to Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul (“he is like a broken clock that’s right twice a day. He’s a nut”).

According to a recent BBC World Service poll, Israel is always perceived as having a negative influence in the world, along with Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. Every country they polled supported the Palestinian statehood. Because of this shift in public opinion Finkelstein said, the US, as well as several other countries, recognise now that the price is ‘much higher’ when it uses its veto (e.g. in the recent UNESCO vote).

Likening the peace process to the song “The wheels on the bus go round and round” (due to its endless and repetitive nature), Finkelstein said people are tired of the whole conflict. “In a century from now people are going to be bewildered – why didn’t they solve this conflict? Now people are waiting to hear: how do we propose to resolve it?”

Finkelstein does not believe in radical change but in profound movements taking years to finally achieve their goals, such as the suffragette movement, or the movement to end slavery. “You’re not going to reach people unless there’s already a consensus,” he said. “If you don’t build with the consensus you’re not creating a movement you’re building a cult. Politics is about what people are ready to do: what are they ready to do here about the Israel Palestine conflict?”

He also criticised the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) organisation for not having a clear strategy or goal, describing them as “purposefully ambiguous.” People aren’t stupid; they will ask what the goal is, he noted. (We are seeing this with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations). A tactic, he said, “has to be in conformity with means and ends. If they are incompatible, they won’t work”.

Though Finkelstein does not believe in nation states, he believes that it is possible to create a map to resolve the conflict. He has rejected the one-state solution. According to some polls, he said, 83% of settlers say “compensate us and we will relocate.”

This is where he differs with his contemporaries. Ramzy Baroud, Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Chronicle, who also visited Manchester in March of this year, believes that a two-state “solution” will “create a demographic nightmare for Palestinians, which equals to their continued subjugation.” In a recent talk – “Back to Basics in Palestine: Time for Unity, Synergy and Mobilization” – Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa said: “People often ask me, which proposal do I support, the one state or the two state. It seems those are the only two proposals in people’s mind. That it has to be one or the other and we end up struggling for one or the other. We waste precious time and energy debating the merits of one over the other… The fundamental problem with both of these proposals is that they are concentrating on the political construct, and of statehood. And I think that is the wrong approach.”

They all agree that there is no real will on Israel’s part, and not enough pressure from the international community, to actually bring about peace and actual solutions. “There has not been a peace process; there has been an annexation process,” Finkelstein stated. “The annexation process needs the peace process; it feeds off it.”

Now that the international community is more aware and there is overwhelming support for a Palestinian state, it is becoming more and more difficult for certain states (including the UK and US) to continue to ignore the will of the people and to use their vetoes at the UN to block peace. People judge outcomes not words, and so far all we’re hearing are empty words.

Finkelstein concluded with a quote from Edward Said: “There is room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory.”

Indeed there is.

By Iram Ramzan, Aslan Media Citizen Reporter